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A garden project showing how to convert a single wood pallet into a deep container for growing food and flowers. A low-cost and useful addition to your container garden! Includes DIY instructions and a video showing how to build a pallet planter and grow plants inside.
When it comes to container gardening, deeper planters are often better. They retain water better, have more space for roots to grow, and plants grow much better in them. Unfortunately, large planters are often expensive or difficult to source. No matter, because if you have a few tools and access to pallet wood, you can build a pallet planter. They take about an hour to make and, once planted up, can last three to five years before needing to be replaced. Making a pallet planter is a great DIY project for an afternoon, and you’ll be pleased with what you can grow in it. You’ll also be pleased to get a big new container from an upcycled pallet instead of spending a lot of money on one.
The pallet planter you’ll make in this project is a rectangular wooden box deep enough to grow tomatoes or raspberries. It’s an excellent planter for growing flowers or shrubs too. When empty, pallet planters can be placed anywhere and are perfect for your balcony, deck or patio, or a traditional garden. If you wanted, you could even create an entire garden of pallet planters and use them as a mini-raised bed garden. You could also use it as a herb garden or grow succulents.
Container Gardening in a Pallet Planter
Now more than ever, it’s becoming important for people to grow their own food, even on a small scale. It’s an eco-friendly way to add healthy fare to our diets and, best of all, helps create a connection between us and what we eat. Gardening is fun too! If you’re new to gardening, starting a container garden is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get started. You can begin with one or a few and start growing herbs, lettuce, strawberries, and more just outside your door.
When you go shopping for containers, you’ll find out a hard lesson, though. Many of the large garden planter options are expensive. Small pots and containers might be more affordable, but they require more watering, and their size can limit what you can grow inside. Though I love my Vegepod planter, it’s certainly an investment. That’s why I came up with a couple of ways to build pallet planters. They’re inexpensive, safe to use with food crops, and big enough to grow practically anything you’d like.
Tools and Equipment to Build a Pallet Planter
Aside from a wood pallet, you’ll need a few tools to transform it into a pallet planter. Equipment to cut the pallet wood and tools and materials to reassemble it into a pallet planter. They include:
- Handsaw, jigsaw, (or mini-chainsaw as seen in the video)
- Hammer and long nails or electric screwdriver and decking screws
- Personal protective equipment: goggles, work gloves
- Sandpaper (optional)
Step-by-Step Instructions for How to Build a Pallet Planter
In this project, you’ll cut a pallet into three pieces and reconnect the pieces into a simple pallet planter box. I created a video (above) showing exactly how for demonstration purposes, and I strongly encourage you to watch it. The project will take an hour or less to build and another hour to fill and plant. The final size of my DIY pallet planter box is 15x43x15″ — giving an excellent depth to grow practically anything.
Step 1: Cut the Pallet
Wearing hand and eye protection, cut the pallet into three equal pieces. You’ll want to make cuts in the same places, both the front and the back of the pallet. Make the cuts between the pallet planks on the facing side, not through them.
Step 2: Remove the Wood on the Backs of the Pieces
On the backs of each piece will be planks and the square wooden spacers attaching them. Remove these all if you can. Many will wiggle off, but you may need to pry them off with the claws of a hammer. Hammer down any nails that stick up. The middle piece needs to be completely free of the planks and spacers, but if you’re having difficulty, you can leave the spacers attached to the other two parts, as I do in the video. Just make sure to remove the planks since you’ll need them for the last step.
Step 3: Begin Assembling the Pallet Planter
Assemble the three pieces into the main sides of the planter, front, back, and bottom. The piece that had all the spacers and planks removed will be the bottom of the planter. If the other two parts still have the spacers attached, make sure that you attach them so that the spacers are at the bottom of the planter, rather than at the top. Making pilot holes first, screw the three pieces together.
Step 4: Finishing Up the Pallet Planter Box
You will now have a three-sided pallet planter in front of you. Using the smaller planks taken from the reverse side of the pallet, create the two short sides. Cut them to size and screw or nail them into the sides — you should have enough planks from the for this job, but if not, use wood from another pallet.
If you’ve noticed splinters or rough areas of wood while you work, use sandpaper to sand and smooth them down. This is optional, though, and I’ve never sanded any of my pallet planters before.
Step 5: Add Feet (optional)
The pallet box is now complete! If you managed to get all of the spacers off, you could use these wooden blocks as feet for the pallet planter. If not, you can have the planter sitting directly on the ground or use bricks as feet.
Lining the Pallet Planter
Now comes the fun part — filling and planting. First, set the planter where you intend to keep it permanently since it will be very heavy once filled. It can be free-standing, or you can attach it to a fence or wall with screws. The area between the planter and any other surface could become mucky or rotten, so you’ll need to take precautions.
Next, line the pallet planter box with landscaping fabric or even the plastic bags that compost comes in. This layer helps stop potting mix from coming out through cracks and the bottom of the planter; it also helps to retain moisture. I’ve recently come across a 100% natural landscaping fabric made from cornstarch that would be perfect for this project. It’s a little expensive, though, and will break down in 3-5 years.
Filling the Pallet Planter
After you line the planter, it’s time to fill it. Use a mix of compost (or composted manure), aerating materials (such as vermiculite), and soil-less potting mix. Mine takes about 175 liters of material in all, so about three to four standard-sized bags. You can used bagged material for each but you can also include homemade compost too.
Mixes vary, but a good ratio is 20% vermiculite, 40% compost, and 40% potting mix (potting soil). If you don’t have a supply of vermiculite, 50% compost and 50% potting mix work too. I didn’t use vermiculite in the past, but it’s excellent for both retaining moisture (in the granules) and aiding air pockets and drainage to the entire mix. It’s great stuff!
When I say potting mix, you’ll have your choice. In the UK, choose a type of bagged peat-free compost. In other places, look for eco-friendly potting soil. Potting soil doesn’t actually have soil (dirt) in it, and I don’t recommend putting actual soil in planters. In containers, soil dries out, loses nutrients quickly, and makes containers heavy. Plants don’t tend to thrive in containers that contain actual soil.
Planting the Pallet Planter
Once the materials are mixed, fill the planter and press it in firmly. Next, water it in and check to see if it needs a top-up of growing medium. Once prepared, you can sow seeds and put plants directly into it. Once filled, the mixture inside will have enough nutrients for a season. It’s up to you to replenish them, though, and there are a few things you can do.
First, dig it over each time you replant to bring nutrients up to the surface. When you put plants into it, add nutrients to the planting hole in the form of compost or organic fertilizer. I also recommend that you top up the surface of the planter with a 1-2” layer of compost mulch each year. Watering the soil with organic feeds will also help both your plants and soil life.
Pallet Planter Longevity
A pallet planter can last anywhere from three to six years. It just depends on your climate, where the planter is situated, and what kind of environmental abuse it receives. When I say last, I mean looking its best! After then, the wood will begin to break down, but the planter is still usable. Eventually, you’ll need to empty the planter and build a new one.
You may be thinking of ways to extend the life of your pallet, though, and there are eco-friendly ways to do that! First, paint the wood with this non-toxic wood preserver both inside and out. Two to three coats and the wood will be protected for many years to come.
You can also seal the inside joints and areas where two pieces of wood meet with non-toxic silicone sealant. Moisture, soil, insects, and rot tend to get into the wood in these dark crevices. Silicone is safe and non-toxic and will help stop rot from developing in these areas.
Be very careful when using other sealants, wood preservers, and paint on your DIY pallet planter. Or any other wooden planters or raised beds in your garden! Many contain toxic ingredients that you don’t want to leach into the soil or your food.
Growing Carrots in the DIY Pallet Planter
You can grow whatever you’d like in your pallet planter — ornamental greenery, flowers, or even shrubs! I’ve grown a lot of different crops in my pallet planter thus far, but they’ve all been food crops. Since it’s a deep planter, I grew a few rows of carrots in it the first year. I moved house in the second year, brought the planter with me, and placed it in the new greenhouse. That year, I used it to grow tomatoes and basil, and a few other greens.
It’s going strong in its third year now with no signs of rot. I checked this week when I was deep-cleaning the greenhouse and rearranging it. I’ve been making my garden plan for this year and now think I’ll use the pallet planter to grow eggplants (aubergines). This simple wooden box planter can transform into a vertical pallet planter by adding a string or a trellis!
To grow most food crops, the planter will need a place in partial to full sun—six to ten hours of direct sunlight per day is ideal. Containers also need daily watering, so make sure you keep on top of that. You can bury a DIY olla into this planter to help, and I have two in each of my pallet planters.
Sourcing a Wood Pallet to Make a Planter
The most important thing you need for this pallet planter project is a wood pallet. It can be of any size, so don’t worry if yours is larger or smaller than the one you see in the instructions. I find wood pallets at industrial estates and around the back of large shops near their refuse — the local bakery even stacks them up outside for people to collect. If in doubt, just ask, though. You can also buy pallets, and if you’re having difficulty sourcing a pallet, you can do this project with any planks of untreated wood.
As you can see from the photos, the pallet I’m using for this project has very narrow gaps between the planks. In an ideal world, yours should too, but if not, don’t worry. The pallet planter will be lined with landscaping fabric or another material before it’s filled. It will hold the compost in and stop it from eroding through the gaps. Alternatively, you can fill the gaps with small pieces of wood or plant them up like the strawberry pallet planter shown below.
Avoiding Chemically-Treated Pallets
Sometimes you’ll find pallets that are not suitable for garden projects. When we grow a garden, we want both the soil and the food it produces to be healthy. Toxins in wood can make their way into your garden as the wood breaks down. Unfortunately, wood pallets can be contaminated with chemical pesticides or toxins from either paint or the goods the pallet once carried. The contaminant may have evaporated on the surface, but it may still be inside the wood.
There are three main things to look out for to ensure that the pallet will be safe to use as a planter. First, avoid any pallets that are painted. Painted pallets are often reused by the shipping companies that paint them, and you also don’t know what kind of paint it is and if it’s toxic. Treat painted pallets as if they were harmful.
Choosing the Right Pallet
Second, choose pallets that look new and clean and have been used for non-toxic transport. The pallets outside my local bakery bring in flour, yeast, and materials for making food. If you find a pallet outside a gas station, it may have come into contact with oil or antifreeze.
Lastly, avoid pallets treated with chemical pesticides and fungicides. There are various types used, and there may be some indication of them on the stamp on the pallet’s side. Wood pallets are a tool that shipping companies use to transport goods from region to region. There’s a real fear of spreading foreign pests and pathogens on them, so wood pallets are either fumigated with a chemical insecticide or heat-treated.
Pallet Safety and Stamp Meanings
The stamps present on the side of your pallet will tell you how the pallet was sterilized. Avoid using pallets stamped with the letters MB as it indicates that the pallet was left in a chamber pumped with the pesticide Methyl bromide for twenty-four hours.
MB-stamped pallets are relatively uncommon now that MB is being phased out but if you find one, avoid it. The other symbol to avoid is SF, which indicates that the same fumigation process was used on the pallet but with the highly toxic pesticide, Sulphuryl fluoride. Both MB and SF-treated pallets will have toxins in the wood that could get into your soil.
Pallets stamped with the symbols HT (heat-treated) are the safest to use, and DB means that the wood was de-barked. However, heat-treated pallets may also have been treated with a chemical fungicide that will not appear as a symbol in the stamp. There was a case in 2010 of a drug company recalling medications as they were contaminated with fungicide/pesticide 2,4,6-tribromophenol from the pallet.
I hope I’m not scaring you with this information, but it’s important to know. The vast majority of pallets are safe to use, though, and I’ve never once seen an SF-treated pallet. Of the many pallets I’ve seen over the years, only a few were MBs. My rule of thumb with pallets is that when in doubt, avoid.
More Pallet Projects for the Garden
You should now have all the information you need to transform a wood pallet into a pallet planter. If you have any questions, do leave me a comment down below. I also have some other ideas that you’ll find helpful for your garden.
Years ago, I shared how to build a better strawberry pallet planter, and I’ve used the same basic principle in this idea. If your pallet has gaps between the planks, you can plant lettuces, greens, and yes, even strawberry plants between them. There are a lot of ideas on Lovely Greens for helping you to start a garden, and here are a few that involve upcycling pallets:
- DIY Wood Pallet Potting Bench
- Easy Pallet Compost Bin
- DIY Herringbone Pallet Table
- Grow Your Own Food in a Victory garden